By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN – Metro council will soon decide whether to adopt a 1989 state law that allows cities and counties to vote on landfills before the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) grants them operating permits.
“I have no faith in TDEC, they take filing fees, they don’t really do anything. I have no faith in their abilities,” said Councilman Nick Leonardo at a Public Works Committee Meeting on March 28.
“In about five years the landfill in Rutherford County is going be full and we are going to be here to address an issue and that is what are we going to do with our waste?” asked Leonardo.
Nashville’s household garbage is hauled to Rutherford County, some is hauled to Logan County, Kentucky and some is trucked to a Benton County landfill in Camden. That landfill has been the subject of lawsuits and allegations of collusion between operators and TDEC officials like TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau. He worked with Michael Stagg, the lawyer for Environmental Waste Solutions, which owns the Camden landfill.
Leonardo proposed a bill to adopt the so-called Jackson Law February 7. The measure was tabled but will be brought back before the council within 90 days. It needs 27 council votes to become law.
Fifty-five Tennessee cities and counties have adopted the Jackson Law. Under its provisions, if the city council rejects a proposed landfill TDEC cannot overrule it. If the Metro council adopts the law by a 2/3 vote, Metro Nashville would be the largest local government to adopt the law in Tennessee.
Several Bordeaux residents spoke in favor of the Jackson Law because its adoption would put decision-making in local hands.
“The current system doesn’t do it,” said Barry Sulkin, an environmental consultant who used to be the state’s chief water quality officer.
At last weeks Public Works Committee meeting Sulkin outlined the history of the Southern Services Landfill off Briley Parkway that is now owned by Waste Management, Inc.
“Southern Services originally put it in there without permit or zoning,” said Sulkin.
Sulkin said the landfill has expanded multiple times in 5-acre increments until it reached its current size of 80 acres.
“Oil got pumped into the river; it never did get cleaned up. …The city said it was out of their hands, the state refused to help. So there’s something wrong with the current system. Metro really doesn’t have a voice in it,” he said.
Leonardo doesn’t want Southern Services to expand and the company says that site will be full in about eight years. The only other dump in Davidson County is C & D Landfill in Hermitage. Owner Dell Binkley said his 60-acre site sits between railroad tracks and the Stones River. There is no room to expand. Binkley said the site will close down in 6 months because it will be full.
Dan Lane lives in Bordeaux and served on the Regional Solid Waste Board for 17 years. He favors the Jackson Law. “I truly believe we have to step up as individuals and as institutions and take care of our own waste,” he said.
Lane voted to deny Southern Services an expansion permit but a court later reversed the Solid Waste Board’s decision and TDEC granted the company an expansion permit in 2005.
While courts have overruled the Solid Waste Board and TDEC in the past, Leonardo says that would be unlikely if the city council adopted the Jackson Law. The council could use the law to prevent a new landfill anywhere inside the county’s borders and even one mile beyond county lines.
Environmental lawyer Elizabeth Murphy says adjacent counties could put a landfill right on the border but by invoking the Jackson Law, Davidson County could block it.
“If you have it, Nashville gets to look at the plans, gets to have a public hearing, they get to find out is this going to affect us or not. That is a provision that is pretty important and gives Nashville a lot of protection. You can’t get it anywhere else,” she said.
If the council approves the Jackson Law, it will become effective immediately and companies that apply for permits to open a new landfill would have to meet eight criteria.
They are: the type of waste, the method of disposal at the landfill, the impact on surrounding areas from noise and odor, the impact on property values, the adequacy of roads and bridges leading to the landfill, the economic impact on the area, and other factors affecting public health, safety, or welfare.
Despite the Jackson Law, city officials in Camden, have not had much luck regulating their landfill which has a TDEC permit to accept special waste.
“I think there’s great misunderstanding about landfills,” said Murphy. “That it’s a hole in the ground, it stinks a little but we gotta have them and they don’t do any harm. Completely untrue,” she said.
“These are mountains; they all leak; they contaminate the ground water; they contaminate surrounding streams. Camden started off as a solid waste landfill and it started taking special industrial waste and six months later it’s a hazardous waste generator. They don’t know what to do with this liquid. It’s a huge problem and an expensive one.”
Murphy said that when landfills take in special waste they eventually leach toxic liquid into the groundwater. She says even after toxic dumps are closed down, they continue to leak. The leachate must be hauled off and it can cost millions of dollars to dispose of it properly.
The two Davidson County landfills accept construction and demolition debris but neither takes household garbage, food waste, or hazardous materials like heavy metals or barrels of toxic waste.
“If you are trying to deal with a problem that is costing millions of dollars, you might start looking at dumping it in the dark…and they are doing it,” she said.
She noted the case of one trucker in Camden who was dumping leachate out along the road until he was eventually caught. There’s big money in toxic waste and Murphy says TDEC’s permits are for sale.
“These are the problems that nobody thinks about at the front end,” Murphy said.
“Special waste is coming into these landfills legally. TDEC takes the permit money and says ‘go right ahead’. They take it because they make money on the front end; counties and cities pay long-term on the back end,” she said.
“So the Jackson law makes us look at everything on the front end,” Murphy said.